It isn’t smart to review Die Hard With A Vengeance as a sequel to the original Die Hard (1988). That movie existed in its own time and space, with a hero who was miles away from the hero in this one. Gone are the days when John McClane was an unlucky SOB who had to deal with tragic situations because he was the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he is precisely the right man at the right place at the right time. Danger doesn’t just find him, it has his name written on his forehead.
Die Hard With A Vengeance is the third Die Hard movie, and it contains enough violence for all three. The plot it devises has moments of intelligence and potential, but it is essentially a clothesline for a long and inexhaustible series of sensational stunt sequences, all of which, again, require John McClane to muster all he’s worth in order to overcome. There are so many stunts that the movie has to squeeze in a fourth act in Canada to accommodate them, and then when it finishes, the plot seems unresolved, as if it forgot it had questions to answer. Seldom does a movie overstay its welcome and then leave with the best dishes from the buffet table.
John (Bruce Willis) rides a subway car through a subway station as it careens over the platform, possibly bulldozing a hundred civilians. He outruns numerous explosions. He reverses down an aqueduct away from an oncoming flood. He drives a stolen cab through Central Park’s thoroughfare and shoots a couple more stolen cars off bridges, ramps, through barricades and railings. He’s always running, either towards a bomb or away from one. And in perhaps the movie’s most imaginative scene, he and his partner descend from a bridge onto a criminal ship via the tow cable of his pickup truck (also stolen). Then there’s more running, this time away from machine gun fire, which all action heroes know will never hit them.
His partner is not really his partner. He’s simply a wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He could be the John McClane for a new audience. His name is Zeus Carver, played heroically by Samuel L. Jackson as a humble electronics whizz from Harlem who stumbles into the movie’s nefarious plot after he saves John from possible racial homicide. See, John is being targeted by a man known only as Simon (Jeremy Irons), who wants more than anything to run John through his playground of humiliation while he sits, quiet and observant, behind the safety of his telephone. Why John? Remember Hans Gruber?
Zeus, seemingly all knowing and all sensing, steps in and gets caught in Simon’s scope. Now both John and Zeus have to run around Manhattan, solving puzzles, following orders, dismantling bombs and uncovering bigger, darker, more dastardly plots (if you think Simon’s only ambition is to make John look like a fool, you’ve got another thing coming).
This makes way for a lot of talk between John and Zeus, who develop a quasi-buddy relationship. A lot of screen time is given over to them, which usually means we have to like them. Good thing then, because we do. They’re the best part of With A Vengeance, an action movie that understands the humanity behind its action. Most of their dialogue is written with casual wit, and as the movie progresses they reveal the capacity to graduate as a full fledged police duo, though Zeus would never stand for it. He doesn’t like the white folk. Just as well. They are the ones who cause all his troubles in this picture.
With A Vengeance is directed by John McTiernan, director of the first Die Hard, and we get the feeling that he’s more free now, free to explore the facets of violence that he was perhaps not at liberty to in 1988. He also provides more work for his stunt and special effects teams, who seem to dominate most of the visual landscape. They are given a lot to do (an early explosion of a downtown Manhattan department store is eerily convincing). You know how some movies provide a blurb at the end of their credits that reads: The making of this motion picture supported the jobs of over 15,000 people? Die Hard With A Vengeance could support the whole city of New York, including Newark, before blowing them up of course.
Best Moment | The rapport between John and Zeus. Funny stuff.
Worst Moment | What happens after the ship pulls the pickup truck off the bridge and into the water. Also, how John escapes the flooded aqueduct is quite ridiculous.